Meg Kearney: Psychotherapy and playtime

Meg Kearney: Psychotherapy and playtime

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Well, the holidays are over and it’s now time for the post New Year slump. The time when the skies are often overcast and gray and the days stretch on as we look out the window, trying to catch a glimpse of sun or perhaps a brilliant snowfall.

If the Freshman 15 is a real thing, then so is the Christmas 12, the number of pounds I seem to gain over the 12 days of Christmas.

For me, it’s not close enough to spring for me to start panicking, but for many people the best way to keep the weight down and spirits up is to exercise.

What better way to do it than by having some physical fun with friends, old and new! No, not that kind of fun, I’m talking sports, Stonewall Sports to be exact.

The league has brought kickball, dodgeball, billiards and other recreational games out of the closet and into the gym.

This week, we spoke to someone who knows a little bit about sports and mental health, Meg Kearney. Kearney is a licensed psychotherapist and board member of Stonewall Sports. The non-profit group’s mission is to “provide safe spaces for LGBTQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex and Ally) individuals to play intramural sports, enhance the social environment of the greater Philadelphia LGBTQIA community and provide opportunities to contribute to a philanthropic cause.”

PGN: So where in the world is Meg Kearney from?

MK: I’m originally from Cleveland, Ohio. I was born and raised there.

PGN: Give me the family breakdown.

MK: I have two older brothers, a lesbian mother, a dad and stepmom. We have a really big, Irish family.

PGN: Who came out first, you or your mom?

MK: Definitely my mom. I think I knew she was gay since I was about 9. It was a little unusual back then, especially being from a fairly conservative town. I was the only kid I knew with a gay parent and our family situation. But it gave me a good role model of someone who chose to live her life in a way that was authentic. My mom is pretty incredible, and I think I turned out OK as well.

PGN: And when did you come out?

MK: Not until college. I think some people would assume that having a gay parent would make it easier, but that’s not necessarily true. I think I was actually afraid to come out in some ways. I was very protective of my mom and a part of me was afraid that people would blame my mom. It was a time when the school of thought was that gay people shouldn’t have or raise kids because they might turn them gay. So it was very anxiety provoking for me.

PGN: I remember two gay men talking about raising their kid back in the day, and the boy was very effeminate. They were torn, because they didn’t want to discourage the kid from what he liked to do, but inside they were like, “No, no, no, no!” because they were afraid people would think they were making the kid play with dolls and wear pink!

MK: Yeah, I think my mom was just afraid that it would make my life harder, even with a supportive family.

PGN: And what were you like as a kid?

MK: I was very athletic. I played a lot of sports. I played softball and volleyball and dodgeball, and then in high school I became an equestrian and competed nationally.

PGN: Oh cool! I used to compete in local shows. What was your worst moment in the ring?

MK: Oh, there were a lot. I had an incident where I crashed into a fence and the horse crashed along with me, and somehow I ended up getting stepped on and having to be taken to the hospital because I had a broken collarbone.

PGN: Yikes! Was competing what you wanted to do when you grew up?

MK: No. I wanted to be a pediatric gastroenterologist.

PGN: Wow, that’s specific.

MK: I know. I started pre-med at Smith College until we got to the biology lab and we were supposed to dissect a fetal pig. I couldn’t do it. I had to leave the class and that was the end of that.

PGN: So had you come out before college or did Smith make you gay?

MK: [Laughing] Well, as I said, I knew I was gay, but Smith made me comfortable enough, and I was far away enough, that I could explore it without feeling I was putting my mom in a situation where people would talk.

PGN: How did you transition from pre-med to social work?

MK: Well, my major at Smith was psychology. I got involved with an organization on campus called Active Minds. It was a group that worked to promote positive mental health and normalize mental health at schools. I’ve known some awesome social workers and I know it’ll sound cliché, but it was what I was supposed to do.

PGN: As a social worker here in the U.S., what are some of the challenges you face?

MK: I think one of the biggest challenges is helping people get help. If we treated cardiovascular health the way we treat mental health, someone would have to have a heart attack in order to get any kind of treatment. We often don’t give people mental health treatment until they’re in crisis.

PGN: It bugs me that whenever there’s a shooting, people often say, “He had mental health issues,” when there are millions of people with mental health issues and they’re not all committing mass shootings.

MK: Yes, like, 99.9 percent of them.

PGN: What is your role in the field?

MK: I work with a hospital doing individual and group psychotherapy, and psycho-education with adults with a variety of health concerns, including but not limited to PTSD, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, eating disorders … a lot of work with people in crisis.

PGN: There’s a lot of fear around those issues in the general public. Has working in that arena made it more “normal” for you?

MK: Absolutely. Even with my clients, I emphasize that we’re all the same. They might be working with certain diagnoses, but we’re all managing problems.

PGN: I think people associate PTSD with men because it’s associated with male war vets. What do you find?

MK: I think, in the age of the #MeToo movement, we’re beginning to realize the damaging effects of sexual trauma. I’m not certain, but I think the statistics are something like 1 in 3 women will have experienced some sort of sexual violence by the age of 18. Few people are going to go through that and not experience some sort of PTSD.

PGN: How did you get involved in Stonewall Sports?

MK: I came here to get my master’s from Bryn Mawr College, and in 2014 I got involved in Stonewall as a way to meet people in Philadelphia. I started playing kickball and I never stopped.

PGN: What’s your team?

MK: I’ve played on several teams. We’re encouraged to switch up each year to meet new people. When I joined, I didn’t really have a friend base here. I joined a team where none of us knew each other, so I really put myself out there and now I’m still close to many of them, and others since then who have become family on and off the field.

PGN: What sports are available?

MK: Kickball, dodgeball, volleyball, billiards, yoga and bowling.

PGN: I thought dodgeball was every gay person’s nightmare!

MK: [Laughing] I think getting to do it in an environment that’s LGBT-friendly helps to form more positive memories!

PGN: Do you have a partner?

MK: Yes, her name is Ryan and she’s awesome.

PGN: Wrapping up, how do sports help with our winter doldrums?

MK: Physical activity is good for mental health. It releases those endorphins. And, when you play a team sport and interact with people, especially at someplace like Stonewall, where they are supportive of you and your authentic self, it helps with self esteem and makes you feel good about yourself. And it’s fun! 

For more information, go to www.stonewallphilly.leagueapps.com


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